Confidential U.S. assessments, which the State Department tried to hide from the public, show nearly all Afghan Cabinet ministries are woefully ill-prepared to govern after the U.S. withdraws its troops, often describing the gaps in knowledge, capability and safeguards as “critical” and describing an infrastructure in danger of collapsing if left to its own accord.
The State Department USAID reports, obtained by The Washington Times, paint a sobering portrait about the impact of the billions of dollars the U.S. has spent on nation-building over the past decade.
Treated as a whole, the reports suggest that the U.S. spending has yet to create a sustainable civilian government in Afghanistan and, in some cases, has been diverted to corrupt politicians or extremists looking to destabilize the country.
USAID officials told The Times on Tuesday that the risks of corruption and waste associated with trying to develop a government in Afghanistan have long been known and that U.S. taxpayers must be patient before they see further returns on their aid investments.
Americans need to appreciate that the Afghan government ministries hardly existed a dozen years ago, said the officials, who argued that the government has progressed dramatically over the years — giving all the more reason for Washington now to ensure that the gains are not lost and U.S. national security hurt during the years ahead.
But questions remain about precisely why the secret assessments, which were conducted by USAID officials in 2012 and 2013 and are known in foreign aid circles as “Stage II Risk Assessment Reports,” are just coming to light.
The documents focus specifically on seven Afghan government ministries overseeing the nation’s finance, mining, electric utilities, communications, education, health and agriculture.
USAID concluded outright that six of those ministries simply cannot be trusted to manage aid from U.S. taxpayers without a dangerous risk that the money will fall victim to fraud, waste, abuse or outright theft.
Only in one of the seven cases — the Afghan Ministry of Finance in March 2013 — did auditors conclude that the ministry’s systems were “adequate to properly manage and account for” money being channeled in from Washington.
But even with that conclusion, USAID auditors identified 26 risks for fraud and waste at the finance ministry. Three of the risks were deemed to be “high” and the rest were rated “critical,” including the overarching danger of the Finance Ministry simply “not being able to fulfill its mandate and carry out its operation.”
The reports, which also contain specific recommendations for each ministry to root out mismanagement, are being made public against a backdrop of mounting debate in Washington over America’s nation-building project in Afghanistan over the past 12 years.
The Times obtained the assessments under a Freedom of Information Act request filed with the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, the chief U.S. watchdog over the State Department’s nation-building efforts.
The State Department provided the documents earlier to private groups and congressional lawmakers, but in redacted, edited and compressed formats, leading to complaints that the department hid essential information about the poor state of Afghanistan’s governing ability. The Times’ copies were mostly free of edits, laying bare the stark assessments USAID gave about each Afghan ministry.